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The Most Umami-Heavy Ingredients

Rachel Tepper Paley
January 22, 2014

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You’ve probably heard the word umami before, but don’t sweat it if you’re not 100 percent sure what it means.

Here’s the lowdown: umami is one of the five basic flavor categories, which include sweetness, saltiness, sourness, and bitterness. It’s a pleasant, round, savory taste, which according to Japanese nonprofit The Umami Information Center results from the presence of the amino acid glutamate or any of the ribonucleotides guanylate, inosinate, or adenylate (we know: yawn).

You know what oozes umami? Good old American-Chinese food, which is often zinged up with monosodium glutamate (or as you might better know it, MSG). But you don’t have to rely on that addictive stuff to experience the savory fifth flavor. Here are ten umami-rich ingredients you should give a whirl.

Shiitake Mushrooms

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Earthy mushrooms like shiitakes are rich in glutamate. When they’re dried, they also boast a high level of guanylate. Try them in this lemony creamed corn recipe.


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Here’s another reason why aromatic, delicious truffles are among the most coveted ingredients known to man: they’re rich in umami. When shaved, they improve almost any pasta dish, whether it’s risotto or ravioli.


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Yep, tomatoes are bursting with it, too. The riper they are, the more umami they have. Roasting them only boosts that flavor, so try this roasted tomato sauce.


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Parmesan might be the most umami ingredient in Western cooking. We’ll take a few hefty shavings of it over this pasta with caramelized onions, please.


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Plenty of types of seaweed are packed with umami, but the dried kelp called kombu stands out. Many umami Asian soup stocks are made from it, including this one.

Fish Sauce

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Fish sauce may be overpowering at first whiff, but it’s divine when mixed into dishes like pad Thai and sticky Asian-inspired chicken wings.

Bonito Flakes

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Bonito flakes, which are ribbons of super salty dried, fermented fish, are great as garnishes or as the base of yet another excellent dashi.


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Hear us out; you probably either love or despise this polarizing spread, but it’s definitely full of umamiEat it on white bread, like the English do. (Or, you know, don’t. There are plenty other umami dishes in the sea.)

Soy Sauce

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This salty stuff is another reason umami is associated with so many Asian dishes. We love the earthy pairing of soy-glazed tofu and carrots.


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There’s a reason a burger chain has “umami” right in its name; red meatwhether in steak, ground or patty form—is a knockout. For a double umami whammy, check out this blue cheese burger; both the unctuous Gorgonzola and the beef boast umami flavors. 


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Pungent, salty anchovies indisputably put some people off, but you’ve probably unknowingly eaten (and loved) them in the best Caesar salad you’ve ever ordered.

We bet some of these ingredients are already staples in your kitchen. Newsflash: you love umami. Is your mind blown?